Anda di halaman 1dari 25

Journal of British Studies

http://journals.cambridge.org/JBR
Additional services for Journal

of British Studies:

Email alerts: Click here


Subscriptions: Click here
Commercial reprints: Click here
Terms of use : Click here

The Only Man of Nature That Ever Appeared in the


World: Walking John Stewart and the Trajectories of
Social Radicalism, 17901822
Gregory Claeys
Journal of British Studies / Volume 53 / Issue 03 / July 2014, pp 636 - 659
DOI: 10.1017/jbr.2014.54, Published online: 26 August 2014

Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0021937114000549


How to cite this article:
Gregory Claeys (2014). The Only Man of Nature That Ever Appeared in the World: Walking
John Stewart and the Trajectories of Social Radicalism, 17901822. Journal of British Studies,
53, pp 636-659 doi:10.1017/jbr.2014.54
Request Permissions : Click here

Downloaded from http://journals.cambridge.org/JBR, IP address: 128.192.114.19 on 08 Jun 2015

Journal of British Studies 53 (July 2014): 636659. doi:10.1017/jbr.2014.54


The North American Conference on British Studies, 2014

The Only Man of Nature That Ever Appeared in the


World: Walking John Stewart and the Trajectories
of Social Radicalism, 17901822
Gregory Claeys
Abstract This article explores the ideas of Walking John Stewart (17471822), a
little-known adventurer and philosopher active in debates over social reformation
during the French Revolutionary period. Renowned as a peripatetic who walked
from India to Britain, Stewart befriended Thomas Paine and others during the early
years of the Revolution. His main aim was to persuade them of the value of his philosophy, which was derived from French materialism as well as Hindu and Buddhist
sources. But Stewart also came under the influence of the Shakers, Dunkers, Moravians,
and other North American sectarian communities. As early as 1791 he commended
small-scale cohabitations of no more than 100 men and 100 women as the ideal
form of association. Here, and in his radical approaches to marriage and sexual relationships, he strikingly anticipated the ideas of Robert Owen and the early socialists.

he powerfully unsettling challenges posed by the French Revolution to


British society resulted in a veritable explosion of proposals for amelioration. These included constitutional and political reform to feminism, pleas
for religious freedom, appeals for the rights of animals and colonized native peoples,
and much else.1 Schemes for the reorganization of the property system, inspired in
particular by republicanism and aimed primarily at mitigating inequality and the
effects of luxury and refinement, were mooted in various quarters. More socially
oriented reformers extended such principles into private life. Not uncommonly,
they urged a return to nature and to simplicity by contrast to the artificiality
and corruption of supposedly civilised society.2 At least in its first edition in
1793, the philosopher William Godwins famous Enquiry Concerning Political
Justice epitomized such aspirations.3 Others, however, were moving in parallel directions. To Godwins friend Dr. John Frank Newton, a member of an occult group led
by the Platonist Thomas Taylor who regarded Plato as an orphic poet, such ideals

Gregory Claeys is professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London.


1
The more political aspects of these developments are addressed in my The French Revolution Debate in
Britain (London, 2007).
2
On this theme generally in this period, see, e.g., my The French Revolution and Utopianism in
Britain, in Utopianism and the Millennium, ed. Krishan Kumar and Stephen Bann (London, 1993),
4662. Some of the issues explored here are taken up in Chauncey Brewster Tinker, Natures Simple
Plan: A Phase of Radical Thought in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (Princeton, 1922).
3
Notably in book 8, chap. 3.

636

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

637

entailed vegetarianism.4 To Benjamin Franklins acquaintance, the radical Thomas


Bentley, they required disposing of everything which was not indispensible with a
bare existence, which included burning his wifes best clothes.5 By contrast to the
emergence of a growing evangelical backlash against the libertinism of the preceding
period, some also assumed that dramatic alterations in personal relations might be
heralded by dawning events.6 Another friend of Newtons and Godwins, the freethinker James Lawrence, promoted a scheme of free love, female rule, and the protection of maternity based on purportedly South Asian practices representing the
system of nature.7 Most prominently, Godwin and his wife, the pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, also pushed toward experimental and deeply unconventional
approaches to marriage and the family, and would pay dearly for their breach with
conventional morality.8
This essay considers one of the most singular individuals to grace the reformers
pantheon in this period. The career and ideas of Walking John Stewart, and his
peculiar role in these explorations of social, as opposed to political, radicalism,
have gone almost unnoticed. To his friend Thomas De Quincey (who wrote three
essays on him), Stewart was, if half-crazy, one of the lions of London in his
day and in many respects, a more interesting man than any I have known.9
4
Newtons chief work was The Return to Nature; or, a Defence of the Vegetable Regimen (London, 1811).
He allowed his children to run nude through their home. The group believed that the world was in the
third Orphic phase of four stages of development, that of Sagittarius, the hunter, the next being the
age of Aquarius, the Waterman, and that abstinence from human food was required in order to ensure
human progression into a community of nature. W. H. G. Armytage, Yesterdays Tomorrows: A Historical
Survey of Future Societies (London, 1968), 42. Thomas Love Peacock was another member of this circle,
which also influenced Blake and Shelley, among others. The latter not only became a vegetarian but also
renounced wearing anything made from animal skin. For Taylor, see Thomas Taylor the Platonist: Selected
Writings, ed. Kathleen Raine and George Mills Harper (Princeton, 1969). Mary Wollstonecraft lodged
with him for a time. On vegetarianism in this period, see Colin Spencer, The Heretics Feast: A History of
Vegetarianism (London, 1993), 22351.
5
See Thomas Bentley, The Rights of the Poor (1791) and The History of the Extraordinary Dirty Warehouse
(1803).
6
Most notably as expressed in William Wilberforces A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of
Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country Contrasted with Real Christianity
(1797), a key contribution to the reformation of manners campaign. On libertinism in this period, see
Peter Cryle and Lisa OConnell, eds., Libertine Enlightenment: Sex, Liberty and Licence in the Eighteenth
Century (London, 2004), esp. chap. 10; Jon Mee, Libertines and Radicals in the 1790s: The Strange
Case of Charles Pigott, 183203.
7
Lawrence (17731840) advocated a free love ideal termed Nairism, which was explored in his The
Empire of the Nairs (1811), 4 vols.; reprinted in Modern British Utopias, ed. G. Claeys, 8 vols. (London,
1997), 5:1327. The work was composed between 1793 and 1800.
8
In book 8, chap. 5 of his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Godwin treated existing marriage
relations as a branch of the system of property and urged their abolition. Some of his circle are treated
in Arianne Chernock, Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism (Stanford, 2010), esp. 82105.
There are also useful discussions of this group in Robert M. Maniquis and Victoria Myers, eds., Godwinian
Moments: From the Enlightenment to Romanticism (Toronto, 2011).
9
John Timbs, English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 2 vols. (1866), 2:17; Thomas De Quincey, The Works
of Thomas De Quincey, 14 vols. (Edinburgh, 1890), 3:93120. De Quinceys biographers, however, seem
to have been mystified and/or annoyed by this relationship, perhaps sensing in it another hint of weakness
in their own subject (Stewart made De Quincey promise to translate all of his works into Latin, which
seems rash in the circumstances), and have not explored it in any detail. One of the first, H. A. Page,
noted that there was unmistakably a vein of madness in the man. Thomas De Quincey, 2 vols.
(London, 1877), 1:266.

638

CLAEYS

He is now, however, almost utterly forgotten, his works largely inaccessible, scattered
not only across the globe but literally under the ground.10 In Stewart, a radicalism of
philosophic outlook and personal demeanor were combined in a manner that contemporaries found ridiculous and perplexing as well as grandiose and enchanting,
in somewhat equal degrees. Some of his book titlesThe Roll of a Tennis Ball
through the Moral World, for instanceseemingly betray an erratic and perhaps
slightly unhinged genius.
Yet Stewarts eccentricities have greatly overshadowed his more substantial significance for the history of ideas. His development indeed casts light on two phases of
radical thought in this period. First, he illustrates during the 1790s a form of
social radicalism in which a widely conceded utilitarian plea for minimizing pain
and violence in society was carried, through an adaptation of Hindu and Buddhist
principles, to an unusual philosophic and also personal extreme. For Stewart, we
will see, was very much a man to live out his principles in practice. Here his role
has been noted previously but inadequately explored. Second, Stewart can be interpreted as representing a crucial transitional phase between the more utopian republicanism of the 1790s and the communitarianism of the Welsh-born cotton-spinner
turned philanthropist Robert Owen, from which British socialism would emerge
between 1820 and 1850. Stewart, like Owen, came to conclude that small-scale
townships of a Moravian or Shaker type, like those that had been successfully
attempted in the American colonies and young United States, presented the ideal
prototype of future social organization. Like Owen, Stewart wedded an antagonism
to popular democracy and what he regarded as the excesses of the French Revolution
to essentially utopian principles of personal association to create a new hybrid form of
social radicalism. And, much more directly than Owen, he projected a radical
approach to sexuality of a kind associated in this period with Godwin and Wollstonecraft, free love only appearing in socialism in a slightly later period. The curious
eccentricities for which he has chiefly been remembered, then, should not obscure
the interesting and hitherto completely unnoticed theoretical role he played in this
transition.
The only man of nature that ever appeared in the world and the first philosopher to restore man to reason, truth, and nature, without breaking the necessary clue
of social order in religious mysteriesto take only two of his characteristically bombastic self-descriptions, Walking John Stewart was born in London on 19 February
1747 of Scottish extraction, the son of a linen-draper.11 Enrolled at Harrow, where he
was the first player at every game, and the leader of every enterprise, such as robbing
orchards, fighting the towns-people, and riding jack-asses into London, he moved
10

He does appear briefly in the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 52 (Oxford, 2004), 72122. Even
the British Library holds fewer than half of his published titles, and I have quoted at somewhat greater
length here as a consequence. A brief review of his life and works was published in 1861 under the title
Materialism: A Sketch of the Life and Writings of John Stewart, by J.W.C. (James W. Carrington). There
is a chapter on Stewart in Bertrand Harris Bronson, Facets of the Enlightenment (Berkeley, 1968), 266
97, which gives a good biographical account. One of the few recent commentaries on Stewart is Ron
Heisler, Walking Stewart: A Forgotten Great Freethinker, Ethical Record (June 2003). His social and political thought has attracted virtually no attention at all.
11
John Stewart, The Harp of Apollo (1812), 284; title page of John Stewart, The Moral and Intellectual
Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 2 vols. (1810), also proclaimed in The Scripture of Reason and
Nature (1813) and elsewhere.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

639

on to Charter House at age twelve, where he was denounced by his teachers as a


dunce, or unlearned blockhead, and expelled at the age of sixteen. He then went
to India as a writer in the East India Company service with the aim of accumulating a fortune of 3,000 before returning home.12 His adventures here were the stuff
of legend. Stewart published the first English-language account of Tibet, which was
read before the Royal Society, of which he was a member, in 1777.13 He left the companys employment (which he despised) after only two years, however, and became
a general under the Mysore ruler Hyder Ally, one of Britains great Indian enemies in
the 1780s. Wounded several times, he was subsequently employed by Tippoo Saib,
and only narrowly escaped being murdered by him. He then became the prime minister to the Nabob of Arcot, one of the great rulers of southern India and a key ally of
the East India Company.14 Sometime later, he traveled through Persia, Turkey,
Arabia, Egypt, and Abyssinia, mastering, eventually, eight languages, always traveling by foot and unarmed, and eventually arriving in London dressed as an Armenian,
with a long beard.15 Pedestrian journeys followed in the Americas (where he reached
Paraguay), Scotland, Lapland, Germany, Italy, and France, increasing Stewarts conviction that human energy increases in the ratio of travels and that he who knows
all nations must become the highest energy of intellect and manhood.16 Japan and
China alone, of his chosen destinations, he could not penetrate, being refused admission as a foreigner. But he had certainly earned the title De Quincey later bestowed
upon him, of being the first circumambulator of the globe.
Stewart believed that his extensive travels had purified his mind from all the prejudices of instinct, custom, and opinion.17As the best-traveled man of his epoch, he
couldand didclaim to be its wisest, prompting even sympathizers to comment
that his conceit taxes comprehension.18 India and Britain, however, became the
two poles defining his experience. India he regarded as having provided the
origin of all arts and science.19 But, for all his vaunted cosmopolitanism, Stewart
never wavered from the opinion that Britain was the only nation of thought and
sense and that her inhabitants were imbued with a spirit of comradeship . . .
that distinguishes the British peoples from all others. A lengthy sojourn in Paris,
where he met William Wordsworth in 1792, ended badly when Stewart lost twothirds of his fortune (4,000 earned in five years) by abandoning his property at
the onset of the mad revolution.20 For a time, he was dependent upon the

12

Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, ivv.


John Stewart, An Account of the Kingdom of Thibet (1777).
14
John Stewart, The Tocsin of Britannia (1794), 34.
15
He continued to dress this way until the costume was worn out. John Taylor, Records of My Life, 2
vols. (1832), 1:287. The Dissenter William Taylor also appeared in Armenian dress. Ian Sellers, Unitarians and Social Change, Hibbert Journal 61 (1962): 20.
16
John Stewart, The Book of Nature (1812), 56.
17
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:259.
18
G. A. Koch, Republican Religion: The American Revolution and the Cult of Reason (New York, 1933),
151.
19
John Stewart, Good Sense: Addressed to the British Nation (1794), 72.
20
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, xxi; Stewart, Second Part of the Secret of Victory, 6; Stewart,
The Book of Nature, 49. There is some discussion of Stewarts relations with Wordsworth in Kelly Grovier,
Shades of the Prison House: Walking Stewart, Michel Foucault and the Making of Wordsworths Two
Consciousnesses, Studies in Romanticism 44 (2005): 34166, esp. 34447.
13

640

CLAEYS

charity of a Southwark tradesman who had married his sister. When the Nabob of
Arcots debts were settled, however, he received 14,000, which when invested in
annuities yielded 900 per annum. He went to America in 1791, the second year
of the era of intellectual existence, when he traveled on to Canada, and again in
the mid-1790s, when he apparently lectured in Philadelphia in 1796, and in
New York. Here Stewart persuaded the noted deist Elihu Palmer to advertise some
of his works, and he floated plans for a proposed daily newspaper in Palmers
journal, The Prospect.21 An epitaph was left to Stewart inscribed in 1807 on a rock
in the Hudson River, honoring the publication of his Opus Maximum, which
Stewart described as the only work, either ancient or modern, that deserves the character of genius, or authorship, in totality, and the most momentous revelation of
moral and physical truth ever offered to mankind.22
Returning to Britain early in 1800, Stewart proposed a set of lectures on mental
capacity, a prospect derisorily dismissed by the budding reformer and fellow vegetarian Joseph Ritson.23 In London he now adopted a settled life. He rose daily
at six and retired at eleven at night, and walked two hours before breakfast and
three before dinner, usually among the cows in St. Jamess Park (where milk could
be had fresh). Each walk was begun with his coat buttoned up, and it was slowly
unbuttoned as he progressed and then rebuttoned gradually as he reached home.
He often subsisted on one meal per day, drank nothing more stimulating than
small beer, and abstained from coffee and tea, while indulging in the occasional
warm mud bath. Though a vegetarian, living only on what De Quincey called the
Brahminical diet of bread, milk, and fruit, he hosted many well-attended dinners
and also held a daily conversazione, often in company with Thomas Taylor, another
friend of Godwin and Wollstonecraft.24 Musical soirees, usually devoted to
Handel, were added, always ending with the Dead March in Saul, the sign that
guests should depart. He still made occasional excursions, once going to Edinburgh
to ask the philosopher Dugald Stewart a question. In later years, he reduced such
excursions to a daily shuffling, slow perambulation through the area of the Haymarket and Charing Cross, resting in a recess at the side of Westminster Bridge.
Stewart wore a white hat, as well as a red handkerchief with a corner provocatively
exposed, in the hope that strangers would enquire into his opinions. Six feet tall,
handsome and firm, he became an oft-remarked sight on the streets of London.
He irritated his insurance company by living twenty years too long, with the result

21
See Ruth Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 17561800 (Cambridge,
1985), 19697. His works were cited in American Owenite circles considerably later; there is an excerpt
from one in the Free Enquirer, series 2, vol. 4 (183132): 28. Palmers wife thought that Stewarts doctrine
that matter alone existed may well have been correct, but her husband apparently insisted that its time is
not yet come, according to the unreliable James Cheetham, The Life of Thomas Paine (1817), 98.
22
University of Edinburgh MS. De. 7.90.
23
Joseph Ritson, Letters of Joseph Ritson, 2 vols. (1833), 2:194.
24
Taylor was in the 1790s associated with the millenarian prophet Richard Brothers and was a vehement
critic of the vices of the rich and powerful. See J. F. C. Harrison, The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 17801850 (London, 1979), 67, 82. Satirized in DIsraelis Melincourt, he was also the author of an
early defence of animal rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (1792), described as extending the theories of Paine and Wollstonecraft. This tract is sometimes described as specifically emanating from Wollstonecrafts views on improved sex education. See, e.g., Edna Nixon, Mary Wollstonecraft: Her Life and
Times (London, 1971), 9394.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

641

that his annuities were paid nearly four times over.25 He died on Ash Wednesday, 20
February 1821, in his Epicurean apartments in Northumberland Street, Strand,
hung with mirrors, with a profusion of candelabra to provide brilliant illumination,
and decorated with Chinese paintings. At his death, he left 1000 to the University
of Edinburgh. He never married, having found it necessary to happiness to withdraw myself from all family connexions. But he continued to indulge in female dalliance (possibly often again in St Jamess Park) until the age of sixty, when he
concluded that the discharge of semen at that age was the discharge of vitality.
Venereal disease he prevented by applying a strong lotion of coarse soap after intercourse.26 He ascribed his longevity to his diet, to dressing warmly at all times, avoiding drafts, and in all pleasures adopting the Epicurean maxim of enduring lesser to
avoid greater evils. It took him thirty years to quit smoking, but here too he eventually triumphed.27 Only deafness in old age seems to have defeated him.
This extraordinary life was rendered still more interesting by Stewarts choice of
friends. Initially there were few of these, for it was not till many years of controversy
that they left off laughing when Stewart unveiled his first principles of matter.28 The
heady effects of the French Revolution, however, unleashed conventional restraint
and encouraged discussion on every topic. Ideas that might have been tedious or
unacceptably eccentric a few years earlier now became fit subjects for speculation.
Around 179192, Stewart, the man of nature, the first to discover the perfectability of human nature, became intimate with the most famous radical of the day,
Thomas Paine. Both could be found frequently lounging at the White Bear, Piccadilly, where they lodged in 1791.29 Here Joseph Ritson, among others, called upon
him, referring to Stewart as Citizen Bruin. But upon being presented with one of
Stewarts pamphlets, described to him as the first political production of the age,
Ritson resolved to have nothing more to do with him, and remarked that he does
not deserve the name of citizen.30 Stewarts other acquaintances included John

25
John Stewart, Opus Maximum; or, the Great Essay to Reduce the Moral World from Contingency to System
(1803), xix; John Timbs, English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 2:1722; Timbs, Reminiscences of Michael
Kelly, 2 vols. (1826), 1:25152; De Quincey, The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 3:599600; Monthly Repository 17 (1822): 24849; The Sun, 21 February 1822, 3; Taylor, Records of My Life, 1:291; The Life and
Adventures of the Celebrated Walking Stewart (1822), 1213.
26
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, xxi; Stewart, Good Sense, 95. The writer of The Life and
Adventures of the Celebrated Walking Stewart (1822) is nonetheless described as a relative on intimate
terms with its subject. His view that women might one day reject childbirth through abstinence was
applauded by the leading neo-Malthusian of the next generation, Richard Carlile (Every Womans Book;
or, What is Love?, 4th ed. [1826], 24), who described him as the originator of the preventive check of
artificial birth control (Peter Fryer, The Birth Controllers, London, 1967, 75), a fact disputed by Fryer.
Stewart saw nothing wrong with either prostitution or promiscuous sexual intercourse, though he
warned that the controul of the sexual passions was the key to mental sensibility and urged that prostitutes be housed adequately for their own health and safety. Stewart, Opus Maximum, 19596. It has been
claimed that Carliles atheism was encouraged by Stewart. Joel H. Wiener, Radicalism and Freethought in
Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Life of Richard Carlile (London, 1983), 11011.
27
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, xxii; Stewart, Second Part of the Secret of Victory, 5960.
28
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, xv.
29
Stewart, The Tocsin of Britannia, 46; Thomas Clio Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine (1819), 101.
Their relations are discussed in Paul Collins, The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of
Thomas Paine (London, 2005), 911, 24243.
30
Joseph Ritson, Letters of Joseph Ritson, 2 vols. (1833), 2:24.

642

CLAEYS

Horne Tooke, Joel Barlow, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin,31 and nearly
everyone else in the circle of London reformers active in the early 1790s. Scots
such as John Oswald, another vegetarian who had also traveled through south Asia
studying its religions, were also among his friends.32 In the United States, he made
a deep impression on Elihu Palmer, who recorded that Stewarts enquiries into the
nature of the human mind, the qualities of the material world, and the connections
subsisting between the parts and the whole had never been equalled by any individual in either ancient or modern times.33 The most eloquent man . . . I have ever
known, according to De Quincey (echoing Wordsworth), Stewart was assuredly
an entertaining raconteur, in part because, as an American friend remarked, his conversation had less eccentricity than his writings.34 But he was inordinately proud of
the latter, inviting his friends, whom he typically addressed in letters as Dear fellow
part of our human integer, Nature, to bury copies of some of his works in order to
ensure that these survived the coming Apocalypse. Some readily complied.35

Stewarts writings were certainly remarkable by any standard. His literary and philosophic output was summarized in the phrase the Stewartonian philosophy, or unity
of self and nature.36 Critics would dismiss him as possessing a mind filled with a
strange medley of incomprehensible ideas, unlicked, shapeless.37 Even sympathizers
thought the singular dullness of his works rendered them eminently unreadable.38 Yet Stewart published, evidently nearly always at his own expense, a sequence
of works from 1790 until about 1818 exploring many of the great philosophical

31
He met Godwin as early as 12 February 1792, and saw him at least three times in 1794. Stewart also
solicited his help in distributing his own works in 1799. Godwin Diary, Abinger Collection, Bodleian
Library, De E. 201; De B. 214/6. (Godwins Diary is now available online.) These meetings are noted
in Mark Philps Godwins Political Justice (London, 1986), 24043. Godwin told James Hogg that
Stewart was worth knowing for only then would a man know what a bore really was. Stewart in turn considered Godwins Political Justice to be a good introduction to his own ideas, which he however regarded as
far more ambitious. William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys (London, 1989), 262, 544n21. Stewarts copy of the first edition of Political Justice survives in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC,.
Stewart was doubtless aware of the pantisocracy scheme planned by Southey and Coleridge in 1794, which
involved a community framed on Godwinian principles. See J. R. MacGillivray, The Pantisocracy
Scheme and Its Immediate Background, in Studies in English by Members of University College, ed.
M. W. Wallace (Toronto, 1931), 13169. The explicitly Orientalist dimensions of the plan, with its overtones of sexual libertinism, are explored in James C. McKusick, Coleridge and the Politics of Pantisocracy, in Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire, 17801830, ed. Tim Fulford and Peter
J. Kitson (Cambridge, 1998), 10728. No major study of Wollstonecraft mentions Stewart.
32
On Oswald and Stewart, see David V. Erdman, Commerce des Lumires: John Oswald and the British in
Paris, 17901793 (Columbia, 1986), especially 11819.
33
Elihu Palmer, Posthumous Pieces (London, 1824), 19.
34
The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 3:599; National Library of Scotland, MS. 5585, f. 33 (7 April
1798). Oswald was the author of The Cry of Nature, or An Appeal to Mercy and Justice, on Behalf of the Persecuted Animals (London, 1791).
35
Taylor, Records of My Life, 1:289. Stewarts The Harp of Apollo reputedly lies seven feet under De Quinceys former orchard in Grasmere at the foot of Mount Fairfield, and The Apocalypse of Nature in one of the
coves of Helvellyn. H. S. Salt, Walking Stewart, Temple Bar 93 (1891): 578.
36
Stewart, Second Peal of the Tocsin of Britannia, 29.
37
Cyrus Redding, Fifty Years Recollections, 3 vols. (1858), 2:10910.
38
Salt, Walking Stewart, 57378.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

643

issues of the day. His key doctrine was often described as materialism, but this did
not correspond to that general denial of a soul that many associated with the idea.
One theme was his focal point: the essential unity of Self and Nature through the
constant chemical mutation of matter. The corollary of this was that moral actions
provoked corresponding eternal reactions in the disposition of matter, or infinite
retribution of good or evil, with good reproducing good, and evil, evil.39 Thus
for Stewart all nature needed to be treated with tenderness out of mere self-interest,
because the matter that formed human beings might mix with animals after death,
and by mitigating the pain of animals human sufferings could also be reduced. Avoiding violence to animals was therefore a central element of Stewarts philosophy rather
than a humanitarian afterthought.
In quasi-millennial terms, as if announcing a secular revelation, Stewart inaugurated the commencement of the aera of intellectual existence with his first main
work, The Apocalypse of Nature wherein the Source of Moral Motion Is Discovered
(1790), and dated both his subsequent books and humanitys prospects in general
from its publication. Stewarts system described the progress of the only true
course of human perfectuability (his term) from its current state to that of the
child of Nature. This improved system of the philosophy of materialism, sometimes also called ontonomy, or the science of nature, was, Stewart claimed, indebted
to Hume, Voltaire, Bolingbroke, and particularly Mirabeau. De Quincey also linked
it to Spinoza.40 Its foundational belief, loosely termed the transmutation of matter,
was that all sentient creation was interwoven through the constant reorganization of
organic or atomic matter. The great moral science of pain and pleasure thus
demonstrated that acts of good and evil reverberated throughout the Creation and
produced like effects upon all forms of existence.41 Matter, in this system, rather
than merely being construed as dead or inert, was thoroughly moralized, and
ethics was thus provided a physical as well as a metaphysical basis.
Seen from this viewpoint, Stewart claimed, personal identity was nothing more than
the number of atoms which cohere in my body when I pronounce the word self. When
these are dispersed in the whole sensitive system, they are no longer self, or me, that is, I
do not feel their pain nor they mine; but they feel, when combined in new modes of
consciousness, the multiplicate pain or pleasure of my previous identity.42

Despite the obvious loss of memory, then, pleasant or painful sensations were passed
along by the dispersion of matter to millions of persons. All individuals had existed
39

Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:101.
Obituary in The Sun, 21 February 1822, 3; Stewart, Good Sense (1794), 63; Stewart, The Moral or
Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:1; Stewart, Opus Maximum (1803), xxxii;
Stewart, Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe (1790), 105. For a philosophic approach to
these developments, see John W. Yolton, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain
(Oxford, 1984). Stewart was however coy about his intellectual sources. He had an aversion to books
(The Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Walking Stewart, 4), and even a hatred of reading, according
to De Quincey, reading little or nothing but what he wrote himself (The Works of Thomas De Quincey,
3:599), and even advertising on his frontispieces that his studies were pursued, not in Libraries or Colleges, but in the great Volume of Life (The Harp of Apollo). But Locke, Hume, Bacon, Voltaire, and Montesquieu appear in his pages, as well as many classical authors, such as Horace, usually cited in the original.
41
Stewart, The Book of Nature, 112; University of Edinburgh MS. De.7.90.
42
Stewart, The Philosophy of Human Society, 56.
40

644

CLAEYS

through all eternity, Stewart thought, passing through the several stages of inanimate, vegetable, and animal states, and suggesting that some part of me was probably some part of Alexander.43 It is matter that feels and not form, he wrote in
1808, adding that
the atoms of a single human body transpire and spread themselves into their own
agitations of pain and pleasure throughout all the modes of sensitive life in time and
futurity . . . while the moral agitations perpetuate themselves from species to species
from Generations to Generations and from Ages to Ages over all sensitive life placing
good and evil upon an infinite Scale of Retribution.44

According to Stewart, thus, atoms from the human body


emit or transpire into the Atmosphere, and from thence are absorbed by all surrounding
bodies, so that the combination of Life and dissolution of Death is constantly passing
from a state of Agency into a state of Patiency and dispersing the Atoms of a Prince
into Millions of Subjects the Atoms of a Man into Millions of Animals, and the
Atoms of existent Generations into millions of successive Generations in time and
futurity.45

The moral conclusion to be drawn was that


while a certain number of atoms form the collective agency of a particular mode or
person feeling under one sensorium, whose single action may communicate pain or
pleasure to the whole sensitive system, it becomes the infinitely multiplied interest of
those atoms to do good rather than evil, which they must retribute when separated
and recombined under a million sensoriums through the duration of a million of ages.46

Matter and its dispersed atoms travel with the mind, and, in the course of a few days
or weeks, is dispersed over the whole face of the globe, he wrote in 1810. In 1812,
he estimated that the human body emitted half a pound of matter an hour that must
attach itself to millions of beings; a year later, he reiterated that his discoveries in the
laws of chemical science proved that the matter of the human body is incessantly
dispersed in life and death . . . to suffer the good or evil of its own previous agency.47
With this knowledge, he thought, death lost all its terrors, for each would live again
in the multiplied life of his friends, his relatives, his countrymen, his species.48 Given
such a scheme, Stewart insisted that it was in the interest of each to augment the
good and diminish the evil of every subordinate stage of sensitive life into which it
must circulate or transmute both in time and futurity with the loss of Memory or Personal Identity, the implication being that some forms of pleasure and pain resulted
43
Stewart, The Apocalypse of Nature, 73; Stewart, Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe,
xxxiv.
44
University of Edinburgh MS. De.7.90.
45
University of Edinburgh MS. De.7.90 (note in cover of Opus Maximum).
46
Stewart, Second Part of the Secret of Victory, 77.
47
John Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:115; Stewart, The
Book of Nature, i; Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, 7475.
48
Stewart, The Harp of Apollo, 255.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

645

from the consequence of their own previous action. Consequently, Stewart condemned slavery as an atrocious crime and contended that minimizing pain also
meant opposing boxing, duelling, and cruelty to animals.49 All moral and religious
systems, thus, were to be ranked by their opposition to violence against both
animals and humans, and their attempts to minimize superstition.50
There was clearly a Hindu or Buddhist component in this conception of spiritualized utilitarianism, which reflects an idea of karma or a type of reincarnation.51 Certainly Stewart did not claim originality for the idea, which he thought had been
discovered five thousand years ago by the Chinese and adopted by the Egyptians.52 He strongly admired many aspects of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures,
suggesting at one point that Asians had fewer wants and luxuries than did Europeans,
and would soon advance beyond them in education, until finally some Asiatic hero
shall arrest its horrors, and restore the sinking and barbarized European world.53
But Stewarts system, summarized as aiming to effect the greatest possible good
by the least possible evil,54 could also be bent in a contemporary utilitarian direction, albeit with the loss of its mystical allure, utility being described by him as
the only possible measure or criterion of Truth or Good, the only standard of
truth or good, the greatest possible good to the whole of sentient life . . . to
effect the purpose of universal good by giving organism to human society.55 His
views have thus been linked to those of Helvtius in their promotion of a greatest
happiness principle.56 There are echoes, too, of Hume, Priestley, and Bentham,
and of Godwins utilitarianism, here, though Stewart maintained that where
Godwin had trodden tentatively he had himself gone much further (and started
earlier, before Godwins chief work had appeared).57
These were truths, nonetheless, which Stewart insisted only the few could discern.
The multitude was better left to the ordered obligations of their superstitions.
Stewart once wrote that he did not intend his sacred revelation of reason to at
all supersede or interfere with the dispensation of church mystery, but he wished
49

Stewart, Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe, 1:1431.
Stewart, Opus Maximum, 128.
51
So assumes Koch, for instance (Republican Religion, 161). On the reception of Indian ideas in Europe
in this period, see Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europes Rediscovery of India and the East,
16801880 (New York, 1984), esp. 131352, and for a selection of contemporary primary sources, see P. J.
Marshall, ed., The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1970). For Buddhism, see in particular Philip C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge, 1988), and
Charles Allen, The Buddha and the Sahib: The Men Who Discovered Indias Lost Religions (London,
2002). For this period there are also useful discussions in Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, eds.,
Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 17801834 (Bloomington, 1996). Buddhism was linked to
atheism in Britain in the later Victorian period, e.g., by John Stuart Blackie in The Natural History of
Atheism (London., 1877), 10876.
52
Stewart, The Book of Nature (1812), 84. Koch argues that this ideal was however described by Stewart
as an attribute of matter, not of spirit, thus an ideal of immaterial karma. Republican Religion, 161.
53
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:16263.
54
Stewart, Good Sense: Addressed to the British Nation, 6.
55
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:421; Stewart, The Harp of
Apollo, 183, 322.
56
Koch, Republican Religion, 162. See C. A. Helvtius, De LEsprit or Essays on the Mind (London,
1759).
57
On British utilitarianism generally in this period, see Ernest Albee, A History of English Utilitarianism
(London, 1902), 91165, and Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, 3 vols. (London, 1900), esp. vol. 1.
50

646

CLAEYS

it rather to be treated as an auxiliary to religion.58 Indeed, friends noted that he disliked talking about religion because he did not wish to shake the religious opinions
of any person, considering they operated like law, as a restraint upon irregular passions. In any case, he concluded that only philosophers became atheists anyway.59
Nonetheless, Stewarts principal claim to fame became, as De Quincey put it, that
he was as deliberate and resolute an Atheist as can ever have existed, even if paradoxically he was a man religious by temperament and the tendency of all his feelings who clearly aimed to supplant religion with an ideal of humanization based
upon a mixture of sympathy and self-love.60 His travels had confirmed to Stewart
that in all countries morality followed an inverse ratio of religion . . . where there
was most religion there was least morality. China thus expressed the extreme of religiosity and Britain, where every gentleman is almost an Atheist and virtue is
carried to its acme, that of skepticism.61 Taking Lockes Essay on the Human Understanding and its opposition to religious fanaticism as his starting point, Stewarts
ideal of what the Analytical Review termed mystical atheism62 was certainly understood as aiming to destroy religion by ending any hope or fear of reward or punishment in a future state.63 Thus, at the moment of the greatest ferment in radical ideas
of the epoch, the journal commented in 1794 that Stewart sought to be acknowledged as the founder of a new sect, without religion, without civil government,
without private property, without domestic attachments.64
Much of the controversy of the day focused of course upon demands for the extension of the suffrage by Paineite reformers, or radicals, and resistance to these by socalled loyalists. Here, despite his friendship with Paine, Stewart was, like Godwin,
not a radical in the political sense of the term. At the outbreak of the Revolution,
he admittedly rejoiced over Frances triumph over the most formidable enemy of
humanity, abhorred and cruel priestcraft, and noted that mankind are coming of
age, and breaking from the leading strings of priests and kings. He also saw the
democratic component of the British constitution as playing a key role in preventing
the influence of the Crown from establishing too great a disproportion between the
interest of the country, and the interest of partial offices.65 His limited enthusiasm
for French developments waned quickly, however, as events seemingly propelled
Britain, too, in a revolutionary direction. In 1794 he intervened, like Godwin, at
the crucial moment of the trials for treason of Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke,
and John Thelwall by publishing several tracts highly critical of the Jacobinical
Reformers. These were chiefly the leaders of the London Corresponding Society,
notably Thelwall, whom he derided as moral Aliens of the British temperament
and philophagi, or friend-eaters. Describing the existing crisis as the contest
of social existence in which the power of numbers was pitted against the
58

Stewart, The Philosophy of Human Society, 28.


Taylor, Records of My Life, 1:291.
60
De Quincey, The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 3:99101. On atheism in this period, see David
Berman, A History of Atheism in Britain: From Hobbes to Russell (London, 1988), 11033.
61
Stewart, The Tocsin of Social Life, 7778.
62
Analytical Review 9 (1791): 24.
63
Stewart, The Book of Intellectual Life; or, The Sun of the Moral World, 5.
64
Stewart, Second Peal of the Tocsin of Britannia, 28; Analytical Review 18 (1794): 5961. At this
moment such a label could be seen as applying most prominently to Godwin.
65
Stewart, Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe, 1, xxixxii.
59

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

647

power of property, he urged his readers to avoid public assemblies and to discountenance the inferior class of demagogues as well as the dangerous enthusiasm of
the Dissenters.66 He now condemned publishers of inflammatory handbills, while
still recommending despotism for the tyger-monkey nation, France, albeit not
the popular despotism of the Jacobins, or the tyrannical, jealous, and vindictive
dictatorship of Robespierre.67
Stewart was now certainly perceived as seeking to preserve his countrymen from
the corruption of Jacobinical principles within, and from external invasion.68
Around the same time, he recommended that liberty of the press be restricted to
the Greek language alone.69 Napoleon did not impress him either, however; by
1810, he condemned the universal empire of revolutionary police terror . . . constructed by the French, and put into the hands of a tyrant.70 But neither did the prospect of plebeian rule in Britain, and Stewart warned that imitating the American
constitution in Britain would cause so much democracy and confusion, that property and personal liberty would both be endangered, till despotism came to its protection.71 The great danger to modern progress and social order, he thus proclaimed in
1812, was the democracy of free countries, where the will of the people will
always triumph over the reason of the people.72 In 1813, he termed democracy
the whirlpool of anarchy and despotism, arguing that the exclusion of the propertyless from civil power was absolutely necessary.73 Later, he would have some correspondence with the Anti-Jacobin Review.74 But he also defended the Poor Laws as
alone giving Britain a right to the name of society and worried that oppressive
property owners would bring about their abolition.75 He several times also commended a radical reform in the revenue laws, urging all taxes to be levied on
opulence and competence, and not on industry and poverty, with assessment commencing only on 500 of revenue for a married man, 300 for a single man, and
increasing from 1 to 10 percent in the ratio of property.76 He also lamented that
the effects of the division of labor, enforced by the oppressive avarice and policy of
the rich, meant that the poor were reduced thereby to a piece of mechanism, or
mere animal state of existence.77
Stewart, therefore, was not a political reactionary as such; he would later write
that in all countries where despotism reigns, thought can have no action, and,
66
Stewart, Good Sense: Addressed to the British Nation, 110; Stewart, The Tocsin of Britannia, iii, 5, 9, 36;
Second Peal of the Tocsin of Britannia, 6. Godwin, of course, was similarly wary of the revolutionary aspects
of the London Corresponding Society.
67
John E. Jordan, De Quincey to Wordsworth: The Biography of a Relationship (Berkeley, 1962), 176;
Stewart, The Tocsin of Britannia, 10; Analytical Review 18 (1794): 44244; Stewart, Second Peal of the
Tocsin of Britannia, 9.
68
British Critic 3 (1794): 30405.
69
Stewart, Good Sense, summarized in the Analytical Review 20 (1794): 31719.
70
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:1.
71
Ibid., 1:67. He also condemned unreservedly those foulest traitors like Colonel Despard, who
sought revolution by coup dtat. Stewart, The Harp of Apollo, 265.
72
Stewart, The Book of Nature, 95.
73
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, xliii, 3738.
74
Anti-Jacobin Review 21 (1807): 322.
75
Stewart, The Book of Intellectual Life; or, The Sun of the Moral World, 7374, 94.
76
Stewart, The Book of Nature, 5455.
77
Stewart, Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe, 18081.

648

CLAEYS

consequently, sympathy no power, and he would condemn the violence of despotic


princes as helping to make life a state of perpetual anguish.78 Stewart claimed that
he had suspended rather than renounced his reforming principles, but he still insisted in
1794 that curtailing civil liberties, including freedom of the press, if needed to preserve
the monarchy, was justified.79 He urged, however, that Britain and the powers confederated against France cease their war against her and adopt a wholly defensive strategy.
They should, he thought, abandon such conquests as had been made to date, and form
an army of propertied owners of an acre of land, a house, or goods worth 500, to
protect the constitution.80 He hoped the French, in turn, would restore security of
property and person, and give power to the will of the majority, warning that a
failure to stop the war would result in the dissolution of society over all Europe,
and its consequent subjection to Asiatic tyrants. Defending both luxury (as underpinning sensibility, and sensibility, philosophy) and the desire to accumulate property, he
nonetheless insisted that at the present time the most perfect community or nation is
that in which property is most generally diffused. He disputed with Paine the virtues
of cheap American government, and he termed himself the democrat of nature,
aiming at the perfectability of manhood at its most elevated point, on the scale of
intellect.81 Paine he derided in 1794 as a very common Man, of but very common
sense, whose Common Sense had seduced America to a disastrous separation from
its parent stock prematurely, and whose Rights of Man had poisoned the minds of
the plebeian inhabitants of great cities . . . by theoretic doctrines, calculated for the perfectability, and not the predicament of Civil Society.82
Yet Stewart did not believe that democracy was impossible in principle. He
thought it could function only where Opinion and Interest assimilate the great
mass of individuals, as in Switzerland (despite its low level of intellectual achievement).83 Siding with Helvtius against Rousseau respecting the necessity of civil
discipline in limited and well-poised aristocracy and monarchy, he argued that
mixed government alone (with a preponderant power in the landed interest), not
popular or democratic governments introduced by revolution, could ensure
peace and tranquillity, assisted by a press that cultivated moral truth.84 Governments
based upon partial considerations of fluctuating and local profit, where commerce
predominated, he later wrote, were bound to tend less to public prosperity. By 1807,
he had come to lament the alarming progress of luxury that had helped to subvert
the landed interest.85 On any larger scale, he insisted, it always was and always would
be the great enemy of civil liberty. In Britain, the aristocracy were the life or heart
of the body politic so long as they were controlled by the yeomanry, or great body
of small proprietors. Their political influence, Stewart insisted, responding to Sir
Francis Burdett, William Cobbett, and others, had no need of reform, even if the

78
Stewart, An Important and Infallible Secret Discovered and Developed (1807), 4; Stewart, The Moral or
Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 24.
79
Monthly Review 14 (1794): 32832; Stewart, Good Sense: Addressed to the British Nation, 8890.
80
Stewart, The Tocsin of Britannia, 1314, 20.
81
Ibid., 39, 5051.
82
Stewart, Good Sense, 911, 50, 55.
83
Ibid., 7475; Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the Globe, 1:15962.
84
Stewart, Second Peal of the Tocsin of Britannia, 5, 11, 14.
85
Stewart, An Important and Infallible Secret Discovered and Developed, 2526.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

649

progress of luxury and vice among nobles and people was worrisome.86 Here we
might position Stewart among the republican critics of commerce whose trajectory
has been most clearly charted by J. G. A. Pocock.87 In America, he thought, elective
government would prevail as a consequence of the character of its revolution. But he
insisted that the experiment defied the axiom that republican principles ennoble the
mind, and generate virtue. To the contrary, Stewart anticipated Tocqueville in thinking that the Americans had sunk fast into one uniform disposition of contracted selfishness and plebeian baseness of character.88
But Stewart, no doubt regarding consistency as a virtue of the small-minded,
stated at the same time that in moral philosophypossibly as a result of his own
influencethe Americans had made more progress in the knowledge of man,
than the European world has done in the whole epocha of human existence.89
His views on the United States underwent substantial change in this period, in
fact. Stewart dedicated his 1803 stupendous Essay of intellectual energy, the
Opus Maximum (that appears only to have been published in the United States),
to the Americans. He now praised in particular the establishment of sects and
new societies and the establishment of the society of perfectible life which has
lately taken place in America, noting that
[t]hese republics are now sending forth colonies to try every experiment of social institutions, some making property common, others making persons common, submitting
to no law but reason in order to discover the most peaceful and happy category of social
and individual existence. . . . [I]f they can hold together till they have educated one single
generation to perpetuate their new societies of reason and nature, a nucleus of human
life will be formed, that must inevitably spread over the whole globe.90

Four-fifths of Americans in 1803, thought Stewart, were in a state of true felicity.


And as the years advanced, so did his confidence in the new nation. In 1810 he still
warned of the alarming example of the defect of public virtue in the United States.
But in 1812 he described it, suitably protected by Britain, as the future asylum of
man, and the salvation of all nature.91
Stewart thus remained from the mid-1790s a staunch supporter of the British constitution as the best in principle, and he maintained that every virtuous man should be
a zealous Tory, to guard the constitution,92 pending a gradual education of the
populace toward a new ideal. This apparent political conservatism was, however,
increasingly combined with an explicitly utopian approach to social organization
even before similar schemes inspired by Godwins Enquiry Concerning Political
Justice were broached.93 Though the land nationalization schemes of Thomas
86

Ibid., 32, 4749, 53; Stewart, The Harp of Apollo, 319.


J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican
Tradition (Princeton, 1975).
88
Stewart, The Tocsin of Social Life, 1820.
89
Ibid., 32.
90
Stewart, Opus Maximum, vii, 1, 91, 152, 160.
91
Ibid., 197; Stewart, The Philosophy of Human Society , 103; Stewart, The Book of Nature, 83.
92
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, 117; Stewart, The Harp of Apollo, 259.
93
Utopian is used here in a narrow historical sense to describe a commitment to schemes involving
community of goods and the communal regulation of behavior through enhanced sociability. See my
87

650

CLAEYS

Spence had been circulating for some years, neither Spence, Godwin, Paine, nor any
other prominent reformer in this period envisioned communitarianism of the type
Stewart proposed as a more general model for future social development.94
Stewart thus represents the recasting of a non-Christian sectarian form of communitarian experimentation, doubtless inspired by Plato, Thomas More, and utopian
republicanism, but equally by contemporary Christian communitarianism and its
Anabaptist and other heretical precursors. These strands were in turn intermingled
with his own peculiar schemes, and perhaps most interestingly, a pre-Godwinian hostility to monogamous marriage and separate families.95 A similar trajectory of these
ideals would result in the establishment of British Owenite socialism in the 1820s.
The remainder of this essay will assess this connection.

Stewarts curious combination of ideas dates from an earlier period, however, than
those of any other of the founders of socialism. It marks him as a pioneer on this
path, if perhaps also a follower of some of the more extreme literary expressions
of eighteenth-century utopian, Platonic, Spartan, or Morean republicanism, for
instance, as expressed in James Burghs Account of the First Settlement, Laws, Form
of Government, and Police, of the Cessares, A People of South America (1764).96
Stewart early on fixed upon the small-scale community as his ideal type, and there
are clear echoes of Thomas More evident here in his efforts to avoid the extremes
of both the overly restrictive family and the unduly large township. Around 1791,
in one of his first major works, the quasi-millenarian tract The Apocalypse of
Nature,97 Stewart described his model grouping as a cohabitation of not greater
than one hundred men and one hundred women. Here, he suggested, they

Searching for Utopia: The History of an Idea (London, 2011) for further explanation, and News from
Somewhere: Enhanced Sociability and the Composite Definition of Utopia and Dystopia, History 98
(2013): 14573, for a more detailed argument.
94
On Spencean approaches to property in this period, see Malcolm Chase, The Peoples Farm: English
Agrarian Radicalism, 17751840 (Oxford, 1988). Spenceanism and religion are treated in Iain McCalman,
Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 17951840 (Cambridge, 1988).
The Spenceans also appreciated the achievements of the North American Christian communities, as evidenced by Thomas Evanss pamphlet, Christian Policy in full Practice among the People of Harmony, a
Town in the State of Pennsylvania (1818). A variety of literary utopias also explored ideas of community
of property at this time, notably An Essay on Civil Government (1793) and [Thomas Northmore],
Memoirs of Planetes; or, a Sketch of the Laws and Manners of Makar (1795).
95
This in turn had featured in various Christian heresies through the ages, including the twelth-century
Cathars or Albigensians and the fifteenth-century Adamite Hussites. It would feature prominently in
various nineteenth-century American communitarian movements, notably John Humphrey Noyess
Bible Communism and Mormonism.
96
This scheme projected a utopian community based upon explicitly republican principles, cast in fictional guise. It is reprinted in G. Claeys, ed., Utopias of the British Enlightenment (Cambridge: 1994),
71136. On the recurrent appeal of Sparta in this period, see Elizabeth Rawson, The Spartan Tradition
in European Thought (Oxford, 1960).
97
This was published as the second volume of Stewarts Travels Over the Most Interesting Parts of the
Globe. The Library of Congress catalog indicates publication in early 1791, while COPAC tentatively
assigns 1792. On millenarianism in this period, see especially J. F. C. Harrison, The Second Coming:
Popular Millenarianism, 17801850, and Clarke Garrett, Respectable Folly: Millenarians & the French Revolution in France and England (Baltimore, 1975).

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

651

should live in one house, eat at the same table, participate in labour and pleasure in
common, and cultivate a general volition as their guide. Twenty such entities could
be termed a community, twenty communities a province, twenty provinces a commonwealth, and twenty commonwealths a union, with twenty unions encompassing
the worlds population. In this state, Stewart happily proclaimed, law would be
liberty, wisdom virtue, and volition happiness.98
Besides utopian republicanism and his own earlier experiences, Stewarts sojourns
in the United States clearly helped inspire this scheme. After the turn of the century,
he still warned that the French Revolution proved the danger of reform in the constitutive power of society and the persistent virtue of hereditary monarchy.99 But in
America he visited or, more likely, heard about, various communities, notably of
Moravians and Shakers, both of which would attract Robert Owens attention
slightly later.100 These were doubtless the sects and new societies praised in the
Opus Maximum.101 Clearly, Stewart, again like Owen, was willing to overlook the

98
Stewart, The Apocalypse of Nature, 223. Stewarts distance here from the radical individualism of
Godwins Political Justice should perhaps be stressed.
99
Stewart, The Tocsin of Social Life, 22.
100
Owen published the Philadelphia Quaker W. S. Warders A brief Sketch of the Religious Society of
People called Shakers in 1817 (reprinted in his Life, vol. 1A [1858], 14354). He described it as showing
how, by a very inferior community life, wealth could be so easily created for all, that after a comparatively
short period all the members obtained abundance without money and without price, and were removed
from the fear of want, knowing by experience that they could and would be supplied with all things necessary for health and comfort with the regularity of the seasons. Life, 1:24243. He would later acquire the
Rappite community of Harmony in Indiana, renaming it New Harmony. He called the Moravian, Shaker,
and Harmony communities very imperfect but thought they offered sure proof of the gigantic superiority of union over division, for the creation of wealth in 1825. G Claeys, ed., Selected Works of Robert
Owen (1993), 2:1213. On the British background to many of these colonial experiments, see
W. H. G. Armytage, Heavens Below: Utopian Experiments in England, 16601960 (London, 1961). On
the development of these communities in the American colonies and early United States, see in particular
George B. Lockwood, The New Harmony Movement (New York, 1905), and A. E. Bestor, Backwoods
Utopias: The Sectarian and Owenite Phases of Communitarianism in America, 16631829 (Philadelphia,
1950).
101
The pietist Moravian Brethren had emigrated to America in 1736 from Saxony. Their chief community in this period was Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, seventy miles north of Philadelphia, which was begun in
1741 and was much more egalitarian than the original Herrnhut community, though community of goods
was practiced here only briefly, between 1740 and 1760, and then on practical rather than ideological
grounds. The Moravians, however, often labored for the community in return for food, clothing,
shelter, and the education of their children. Gillian Lindt Gollin, Moravians in Two Worlds (New York
1967), 142. Love feasts, or festivals that linked work to religion, were a common practice binding
the community. The first Moravian community in Britain had been founded in 1746, and an early
member of the sect was John Wesley. See Clifford W. Towlson, Moravian and Methodist: Relationships
and Influences in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1957). Stringent regulation of both economic and
moral life defined these experiments, but their feasts brought charges of debauchery and worse.
Another writer to link Thomas More to both Owen and the Moravians in this period was Robert
Southey. See Sir Thomas More; Or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols. (1829),
1:143. Southey was well aware, ca. 1813, of Owens movement in this direction. See my A Tale of
Two Cities: Robert Owen and the Search for Utopia, 181517, in Utopian Moments, ed. Colin Davis
and Miguel Angel Ramiro Avils (London, 2012), 99105. The Shakers or Shaking Quakers had originated in England in the 1740s and, led by Mother Ann Lee, left for the American colonies in 1774,
where their close-knit groups held their goods in common and upheld industry, simplicity, and an unblemished spiritual life. The main Shaker settlements, at New Lebanon and Niskeyuna, New York, also included
the holding of goods in common and the fomenting of strong communal bonds. A good introduction to

652

CLAEYS

religious practices or beliefs of these groups in favor of crediting their social achievements. Indeed, he remained suspicious of their religiosity, writing in 1803 that in all
the revolutions of mankind, religion has perpetually taken the lead and that the
pious sectarians of Moravians, Methodists, Quakers, and others had formed the
advanced phalanx, or covering party, behind which the unprincipled demagogues
lead on the dissolute, the desperate, and ignorant rabble.102 Yet Stewart, like Rousseau, felt that only a small-scale society could represent the common will adequately
and permit community of goods to be practiced. Thus, Stewart in 1803 proposed
that the subjects of a monarch should not discuss politics, nor should their assemblies
dictate policy to their monarch. He also suggested that
the primary element, or principle of all human society, is to co-operate with united
energy, or universal organism of the whole species, to secure individual liberty, by
placing it under the protection of the public will, or majority of a community, in
small societies, and not to leave the individual subjugated and tormented by the capricious relations of custom or instinct, as, in the present imperfect state of society.103

In Stewarts view, all societies needed to progress through seven stages: the savage,
pastoral, agrestic (rural), scientific, civic, confederate, and perfectibility. He now daringly suggested that in the progress of society towards perfectibility, the virtue of
chastity would be brought into doubt by the oscillation of judgment, by establishing
communities of persons in American settlements. Similarly, he supposed the justice
of private property had been brought into doubt by the operations of judgment in
establishing societies in a community of property, such as the Quakers, Moravians,
Pennsylvania Dunkards, and Shakers had practiced. Here he gave preference to the
Dunkards, in particular, as retaining community of goods, unlike the Quakers,
who had thus left an open breach in their system, for the introduction and establishment of another God beside the Lord.104 It seems doubtful that Stewart had more
than a passing acquaintance with their practices, which he nowhere details as a reflection of personal contacts. He praised their reputed proximity to the primitive church
and their opposition to violence.105 The moral democracy of the Quakers he found
particularly admirable (but curiously not their pacifism) by contrast to the religious
aristocracy of the Methodists. Such sects, he thought, might limit the income of

the sect is Edward Deming Andrews, The People Called Shakers: A Search for the Perfect Society (Oxford,
1953). On trends in American communitarianism in this period, see, e.g., Yaacov Oved, Two Hundred
Years of American Communities (New Brunswick, 1993), 19108.
102
Stewart, The Tocsin of Social Life, 89.
103
University of Edinburgh MS. De.7.90.
104
Stewart, Opus Maximum, 79; Stewart, The Roll of a Tennis Ball, Through the Moral World (Dublin,
1812), 28992. The Dunkers or Dunkards were best known for the Ephrata community in southern Pennsylvania, which was founded by Conrad Beissel in 1732. Its members, who never numbered more than
three hundred, initially often practiced celibacy, though marriage was still permitted. They lived in
common and shared their property until 1786. Their diet mostly consisted of fruits and vegetables, and
they generally embraced austerity. It still had seventeen members in 1900. See Mark Holloway, Heavens
on Earth: Utopian Communities in America, 16801880, 2nd ed. (New York, 1966), 4351.
105
He would have been aware that both the Shakers and the Rappites abstained from sexual intercourse.
Most of his discussion of these groups is in The Roll of a Tennis Ball, Through the Moral World, where
Thomas Clarkson is given as a key source on Quakerism.

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

653

their members (to say 1,000 per annum), putting the rest into a common treasury
with the aim of mutual prosperity and charity, noting that this was perhaps as far as
it would be prudent or possible to go, in the present mixed state of things.106
If political corruption resulted principally from inequality of property, then it was
the primitive sectarians, not the votaries of Robespierre, who had solved the great
problem of modern politics. Yet Stewart could hardly endorse the particular religious
basis of these communities, even if, for the majority, he might have regarded such
practices as necessary. He also does not seem to have anticipated a leading role for
women of the type played, for example, by the Shaker leader Mother Ann Lee.
And the sexual politics of the communal groups he admired was often greatly at variance with his own proposals; the Shakers, in particular, were noted for their complete sexual abstinence.107 He probably did not know of earlier more libertine
moments in the history of the Moravian movement,108 but he would rather have
associated them with a much more puritanical approach to marriage and sexuality.
In this sense, it would be the later complex marriage ideal of John Humphrey
Noyess Oneida community that would inherit Stewarts dispositions. We probably
cannot ignore the possibility that the sexual aspects of Stewarts ideal were simply a
projection of his own libertine erotic fantasies, perhaps in combination with some
Orientalist themes of the sort developed by James Lawrence. Yet Stewart denigrated the horrid customs all over Asia of imprisoning their females, torturing
their parts of generation, to make them marriageable at the age of seven and
eight, and mutilating their feet, as in China.109 He also favored equal education
for women conducted in the same manner as male education, differing only in
the locality of universities and professional sciences, adding that they should
pursue the same studies as independent gentlemen.110
It was their size, attitude toward property, and sense of collective endeavor that
thus rendered attractive the American experimental communities about which
Stewart enthused. As with Owen, who commenced developing the principle as
manager of the cotton-spinning mill at New Lanark from 1800 to 1824, one of
these was also a manifest economy of scale. Around 1803, by which time Owen
had begun to advertise his successes in these areas, Stewart suggested that the laboring classes should be instructed, as to their domestic economy, to live in barracks,
that their expenses might be diminished, and their comforts increased; they might
be lodged, warmed, and fed at a cheaper rate than if they lived in a separate
cottage. In such societies, Stewart added, they would meet with recreation and

106
Stewart, The Roll of a Tennis Ball, Through the Moral World, 106, 268, 28992; Stewart, Opus
Maximum, 128.
107
On the experience of women in American communitarianism in this period, see Raymond Lee
Muncy, Sex and Marriage in Utopian Communities: Nineteenth Century America (Baltimore, 1973); Lawrence Foster, Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and
the Mormons (Syracuse, 1991), esp. 1756; and Wendy E. Chmielewski, Louis J. Kern, and Marlyn KleeHartzell, eds., Women in Spiritual and Communitarian Societies in the United States (Syracuse, 1993),
esp. 2137.
108
At some earlier points Moravians had occasionally drawn lots to determine their spouses. Bee Bee,
Moravian Schools and Customs (London, 1889), 12. The same method had been used to choose elders and
bishops. Thanks to Elizabeth Elbourne for pointing this out to me.
109
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 24.
110
Stewart, Opus Maximum, 153.

654

CLAEYS

instruction, and have the convenience of being exonerated from the care of their children, which might all be left in the charge of a few old matrons, while the parents
were all employed in their productive labours.111 If successful, such communities
might send deputies to a national council and in this manner a central meeting
might be formed from all parts of the world . . . which would not fail to draw all
mankind into its vortex of perfectuability of thought and sense.112 In 1803, at
the same time that Owen was expounding upon similar themes, he also offered an
extensive condemnation of the evils of all civilized life.113 The chief of these was
the oppression of labour, which brutalizes the mind, and exhausts the bodily force of the
lower class of the community. The labourer has no time allowed him for recreation,
comfort, or instruction; the harpy eye of avarice watches over him in the field, to
deprive him even of moments of respiration [and] the fruits of his labour are turned
against himself by enriching his master, and enabling him to be a monopolist.114

This social radicalism became a leading theme in Stewarts later writings. We see here
that Stewart substantially anticipated the language of the social system and new
moral world that Owen would popularize. In 1808, well before Owen had begun
to reject competition as such, Stewart argued that every individual community
and confederation of mankind must be organized in co-operation of humanization,
and not the competition of civilization in the feuds and wars of local and selfish interest, and contended again that individuals would be best associated in residences or
barracks of about one hundred people each.115 This scale of organization, considerably smaller than Owens later recommended minimum of five hundred persons, he
defended with the view that thought and sense can alone develop themselves into
virtue, through the medium of humanization, or a state of domestic society, consisting of such numbers as can enter into social conversation, or about a hundred persons
of both sexes. Here, most controversially, both wives and property were proposed to
be in common, but this was to be combined with a perfect equality of individual
freedom.116 Cities would be abandoned, and the agrestic peoples would reunite
with the pastoral, a balance of urban and rural life again strikingly similar to
Owens famous 1817 Plan for the resettlement of the poor on the land. Stewart
warned at various times of the dangers of luxury, voluptuousness, and the decline
in health of urban dwellers, and he also contended that the peasantry had been
much better off under feudalism than they were at present.117 He remained,
111

Ibid., 19192; Steewart, The Sophiometer, 9.


Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 24849.
113
Owens Observations on the Cotton Trade (1803) was his first published discussion of the industrial
system, though hardly yet a critique thereof.
114
Stewart, Opus Maximum, 191. Adam Smiths well-known comments on the mental mutilation
resulting from an extreme division of labor may well have been an inspiration here. See James
E. Thorold Rogers, ed., An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols. (Oxford,
1869), 2:371.
115
Stewart, The Apocalypse of Human Perfectibility, 1112.
116
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:16466. Godwin had
suggested that marriage should be abolished in Political Justice, and Owen would be associated with
similar ideas from the 1820s onward.
117
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:36, 11617.
112

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

655

however, critical of the American constitution, and indeed any other attempt to
implement what he now described as impractical theories of personal liberty and
equality in a state of society founded on the competition and security of unequal
property and natural inequalities of mental and bodily force.118 These views may
have been linked to the physician Charles Halls vehement attack on civilization,
competition, and inequality, which had been published five years earlier and whose
key role in the formulation of a critique of commercial society and in the subsequent
origins of socialism has long been recognized.119 Hints of some of the Scottish
Enlightenments more ambivalent treatments of modernity, such as the work of
Adam Ferguson, were also present. Stewarts hostility to the effects of individual
family life, whose tyrannical results he assailed at length in 1813, also appears undiminished in this period.120 This in turn was linked to his search for the means of
providing and sustaining a communal identity and promoting, in the Dissenting
and Godwin-Owen vernacular, what was usually termed universal benevolence.
In 1810, he hoped that a new system would produce
fraternal societies of perfectionable nature, or that consummate association of the whole
human species, which multiplying the pleasures, powers, and interest of the individual,
by the efforts of the whole, would identify the good of self with the species, and make
man prefer the good of the whole human system to his own.121

This system, he thought, could be created through small fraternities of tribes, where
all property, power, and will, being associated and subjected to the public will of the
community would make one family of all mankind.122
Two years later, too, he recommended that one
should have no relation but that of a tribe or species: what is a child, a wife, or a friend,
to a man, whose life, liberty, and happiness depend on the strength and unity of his tribe?
The individual should be the subject of his tribe, whose members would have no
other master.The sexes should live and cohabit with the same liberty they eat.
The children should know and acknowledge no parent but the tribe; and every
mother should abandon her own, and suckle in common the children of each other as
of all the tribe. Such institutions would render the tribe a family of invincible friends,
either by victory or the alternative of death.123

By 1813, Stewart had begun to proclaim that the highest state of social organization
would involve a community of goods, overseen by a majority of the elders of the
community.124
118

Ibid., 66.
Hall did not, however, promote small-scale communities, but mooted equal division of property
using three precedents: the ancient Jewish constitution, Sparta, and the Jesuit government of Paraguay.
The Effects of Civilisation on the People in European States (1805), 21624.
120
Stewart, The Revelation, 8788.
121
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:7172. Koch thus errs in
contrasting Stewart to Elihu Palmer in asserting that Stewart thought of perfectibility only on the individual, not the social, level. Koch, Republican Religion, 152.
122
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:73.
123
Stewart, The Sophiometer, 20607.
124
Stewart, The Scripture of Reason and Nature, 114.
119

656

CLAEYS

Echoes of Plato, Thomas More, and various Christian sectariansand possibly


also of some of the Spenceansthus came increasingly to the fore in Stewarts writings, even if the scale, conception, and combination of details of his own peculiar
heresy differed. Though no association of their proposals has ever been broached previously, Stewart in wedding these themes strikingly anticipated the development of
Owens ideas in the same period.125 Owen began publicly to pronounce his first
principles in A New View of Society (181316). His much more dramatic 1817
Plan proposed to rehouse the urban poor in co-operative communities of from
500 to 1,500 people working the land and sharing the benefits thereof in
common, and superseding the existing systems of poor relief, private property, and
economic competition.126 He may have known Stewart, but it does not appear
that the latters perambulations ever took him to New Lanark.127 Besides their interests in social reform, both had an abiding concern with education, which both agreed
should be simplified and combined with gymnastic exercises, though Stewart did not
wish the plebeian classes to have more than a limited education, because he thought
this would sap their obedience.128 Both mixed a Toryish, antirevolutionary practical
political outlook with sympathies toward utopian social transformationin Owens
case, and most likely Stewarts tooGodwinian pantisocracy (and both knew
Godwin personally). Both were particularly struck with the structure, moral
outlook, and inner workings of the Quakers, as well as the Shakers and other communitarian sects. Both were hostile to the existing marriage system, though Owen
would not publicly disclose his objections to it for some years, and free love
would not become a characteristically Owenite theme until the later 1830s.129
Stewart, like Owen, also opposed what he termed the state of discordant and
destructive competition that was the basis of modern society, turning in this direction, as we have seen, a number of years before Owen.130
Yet the two also had significant differences of opinion. Stewart, who wished to
defend freedom of the will, described as a silly and imbecile doctrine the foundation-stone of Owens system, the theory of philosophical necessitarianism, or
the idea, as Owen popularly described it, that human character was formed for

125
It is not improbable that this missing link here in this period is the indomitable Westminster radical
tailor and atheist Francis Place, who knew Carlile, helped Owen draft the New View, and probably knew
Stewart as well. But this remains unproven.
126
General studies of the origins and development of Owens ideas include Frank Podmore, Robert
Owen: A Biography (London, 1923), and John F. C. Harrison, Quest for the New Moral World: Robert
Owen & the Owenites in Britain and America (New York, 1969).
127
Lois Whitney, Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English Popular Literature of the Eighteenth
Century (Baltimore, 1934), 292, describes Owen as a friend of Stewarts, but provides no reference to substantiate the claim. Thanks to Lorna Davidson at the New Lanark Trust and to Ian Donnachie for responding to queries about Stewart and Owen. The New Lanark Visitors Book from this period is unfortunately
missing.
128
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:5051; Stewart, Book of
Intellectual Life; or, The Sun of the Moral World, 13133.
129
From ca. 1830. See in particular Lectures on the Marriages of the Priesthood of the Old Immoral World
(1835), reprinted in Selected Works of Robert Owen, 2:259324. On the development of the womens movement within Owenism see Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1983), esp. 183216.
130
Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:13637. Owen would
attack competition as such only in the Report to the County of Lanark (1820).

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

657

rather than by the individual, by external circumstances, in other words, rather than
voluntarily.131 But he did engage to a degree with Owen and his followers in a work
published in 1818, describing them as benevolent but ignorant, debating their
interpretation of necessarianism and preferring a doctrine of free human agency.
Warning that these errors would do more mischief than the most malevolent
designs of wicked fools, Stewart lamented that the benevolent Mr. Owen had prematurely announced the end of the reign of religion.132 It is not impossible that
Owens later adoption of the phrase the new moral world, describing his own
utopia, was indebted to Stewarts repeated discussion of the moral world, and
even that Owens own materialism owed something as well to Stewart. The combination of community of goods with a system of government based upon age also
strikingly anticipates the scheme Owen would settle on by 1817 and outline most
clearly in The Book of the New Moral World (183644).133 Somewhat later, Robert
Southeys ruminations on utopianism did link the two, if obliquely.134
These linkages remain obscure, however, given the continuing absence of stronger
evidence associating the two. Owen was often less than transparent about the specific
sources of his ideas, and he could have reached a position similar to Stewarts through
an evaluation of the same communitarian experiments to which he was also deeply
sympathetic, as well as from an extension of the New Lanark experiment to a
larger scale. Given their mutual acquaintances, his knowledge of Stewarts proposals
seems more likely than not. Yet what is most interesting about this relationship is the
fact that Stewart reached a position very similar to Owens quite independently, and
earlier, than Owen himself. The trajectory of utopian republicanism in this period
thus presented one outcome that both men embraced as a logical consequence of
the developments of the era. That outcome was a regime of enhanced sociability,
wedded to greater social equality and fundamental experimental innovations in
gender, family, and sexual relations, tinged with quasi-millenarian moral expectation,
by contrast with the growing individualism, inequality, and fragmentation of commercial society, and its ossified personal relationships.

Stewarts efforts to wage war with God, in a jargon unintelligible to man certainly
did not go unnoticed.135 But critical reception of his works was mixed, to put it

131

Stewart, The Apocalypse of Human Perfectibility, 17, 152; Stewart, The Harp of Apollo, 263.
Stewart, The Book of Intellectual Life, 152, 17475, 195.
133
Owens scheme involved organizing communities around eight groupings defined by age, and progressing from education through employment to the supervision of others and maintenance of relations
with other communities. Some of the other sources of Owens proposals here are discussed in my Citizens
and Saints: Politics and Anti-politics in Early British Socialism (Cambridge, 1989).
134
Southey stated that if anyone had glimpsed utopia, Stewart had, in Sir Thomas More or, Colloquies on
the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2:38081. Here Stewart was described as afflicted with a tympany of
mind produced by metaphysics, which was at that time a common complaint, though attended in him with
unusual symptoms: but his heart was healthy and strong, and might in former ages have enabled him to
acquire a distinguished place among the Saints of the Thebais or the Philosophers of Greece. Southey had
spoken with Owen at length in 1816, and visited New Lanark in 1819. While he was critical of aspects of
the New Lanark establishment, he nonetheless wrote that it might as well be encouraged as Quakerism
and Moravianism. Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819 (London, 1929), 265.
135
British Critic 21 (1793): 93.
132

658

CLAEYS

politely, though Stewart could not have cared less, terming reviewers scientific
blockheads.136 A typical comment in the 1790s was that
Walking Stewart, the tocsin, or rather the bell-weather of Aristocracy, is too sublime, and
abounds too much in hard words, for my small portion of erudition. After attempting a
few pages, and being unable to discover the sense, I judged it might be lost labour to
proceed, as probably, after all my pains, there might be no sense to discover.137

The Literary Journal observed of Stewarts Opus Maximum that its author possessed
the happy knack of translating English into nonsense, and noted that Stewart
strives to be the first of the new school of philosophers, the spawn of French
deism and politics.138 The Monthly Mirror described his Moral or Intellectual Last
Will as [m]ad, past all hopes from head-shaving, blistering, bleeding or hellebore.139 Isaac Disraelis anti-Jacobin novel Flim-Flams! or the Life and Errors of
My Uncle and His Friends (1805) also satirized Stewart at length, portraying him
as a tall bronzed lean-bodied gentleman who made such amazing strides that
he seemed to be an inhabitant of Jupiter, and who possessed a contempt for both
chairs and libraries.140 There does not seem to have been much appreciation of his
views in radical circles during the 1790s or in the early years of the new century
either. Radicalism (as it would become around 1820), many might have conceded,
had enough problems with being tainted by association with sedition and French
principles to embark upon wild metaphysical speculation of the sort Stewart most
enjoyed, and the apparent personal eccentricity that seemingly accompanied it. In
any case, Stewarts own politics were hardly plebeian.
It might be tempting, then, to dismiss Stewart as simply an idiosyncratic but marginal figure. This, however, would be mistaken. In an era of complex intellectual flux,
he represents one of the more intriguing attempts to come to terms with the meaning
and implications of the French Revolutions challenges to existing definitions of religion and polity, as well as emerging trends toward inequality in commercial society, a
growing opposition to violence toward animals, an increasing experimentation in
personal relations, and a search for the answers to many of these problems, as in
the cases of Lawrence and Oswald, outside the boundaries of European thought.
Stewarts ideas have been described as interesting because they present an image,
surprisingly free from literary influences, of the floating ideas of his time.141 Yet
his efforts to confront modernity are in fact considerably more illuminating than
his scant reputation indicates. What has gone utterly unremarked, in particular, in
the few brief accounts of Stewart, is the proximity of his intellectual course of development to Owens between about 1800 and 1820. Both disliked the French Revolution and democracy generally; both were materialists, and vehemently anticlerical;
and both had imbibed something of the spirit of pantisocracy, or equal government
136

Stewart, The Moral or Intellectual Last Will and Testament of John Stewart, 1:256.
Rights and Remedies; or the Theory and Practice of True Politics (1795), part 2, 47.
138
Literary Journal: A Review of Literature, Science, Manners, Politics 2 (1803): 53943.
139
Monthly Mirror, ns 8 (December 1810): 442.
140
[Isaac Disraeli]. Flim-Flams! or the Life and Errors of My Uncle and His Friends, 2nd. ed., 3 vols.
(1806), 2:23745.
141
Bertrand Harris Bronson, Facets of the Enlightenment, 290.
137

THE ONLY MAN OF NATURE THAT EVER APPEARED IN THE WORLD

659

of all, which was intended by some Godwinians to be combined with Aspheterism


(Coleridges term), or the abolition of individual property. Both Stewart and Owen
were friends with Godwin, and both settled upon a form of communitarianism
modeled in particular upon sectarian migrs to the United States as their ideal
type of society, specifically in opposition to the growing inequality and oppression
of the poor in commercial society. Stewart, thought De Quincey, had ultimately to
be treated as a sublime visionary.142 True; but his particular vision took him
beyond Godwinian individualism and Spencean land nationalization toward the
much more communitarian, secularist schemes of Owen and the Owenites that
would be branded as socialism by the mid-1820s. His significance, then, lies at
least partly in being a herald of the reawakening, adaptation, and secularization of
the Christian communal impulse for large-scale social reform, which would principally assume an Owenite form in the coming decades.

142

De Quincey, The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 3:115.